Posted: 22 May 2015

Why International Missing Children's Day matters

Today, on International Missing Children’s Day, around 350 children will run away in the UK.  To show just how vulnerable they are, we’ve used our research to estimate what will happen to these children.

A child missing every 4 minutes

A child will go missing around every 4 minutes today. About 133 children who run away today (38%) will stay away overnight. At the other end of the scale, about 56 children (16%) will stay away for more than four weeks.

Children from all backgrounds will go missing, but there are some groups more likely to runaway than others. For example, around 10,000 children run away from a care home or foster placement each year. We also know that over the year, about 1 in five children who consider themselves to have a disability will run away.

Push and pull factors

Children usually go missing because they are either running to something, or because they are running away from something – we sometimes refer to these as ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors.

Many children will be running away from problems at home or at school, for example. Around 42 children (12%) will run away today because of abuse or neglect at home, and 92 of the children (26%) who go missing today will feel that they have been forced to leave home.

But young people may have a happy family and school life and still run away. Children may run away because they are being groomed by adults who wish them harm. A report by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner found that as many as 70% of child victims of sexual exploitation in England had a history of running away.

Risks while on the streets

Of the 350 children who will run away today, about 88 will experience a harmful or risky situation. 39 will be physically hurt, 64 will sleep rough or stay with someone they’ve just met and 71 will beg, steal or do ‘other things’ in order to survive.

In many cases, running away can lead to children being abused and sexually exploited. The Children’s Commissioner’s report on child sexual exploitation identified running away as a key risk factor in sexual exploitation. And recent inquiries in sexual exploitation in Rotherham, Oxford and Greater Manchester have all highlighted the dangers faced by runaway children.

How we keep missing children safe

We have been directly supporting and campaigning on behalf of young runaways for more than two decades. We currently run nine programmes across the country supporting children hundreds of children who go missing from home or care.

We provide Return Home Interviews to children who go missing, where we discuss why they ran away and what happened to them while they were missing. We talk to children about the risks of running away and the problems that caused them to run, so they are less likely to run away in the future.

We also identify any further support that children might need, whether that’s intensive one-to-one support, family support, group work or therapeutic support to help children deal with the underlying cause of their running away or the harm they experience while missing.

By Euan Holloway - Policy team

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